Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Improve understanding of the economics of biodiversity

Apply for funding to improve our understanding of economics of biodiversity.

Your research will help governments and organisations in the UK to integrate economics of biodiversity into decision making.

Your project must focus on areas from both NERC and ESRC remits.

You must be based at a UK organisation eligible for NERC funding.

Your project must focus on at least one of the following themes:

  • how biodiversity is valued by decision makers
  • biodiversity, natural capital and resilience
  • tools to help decision makers manage natural assets.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £1 million. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

We will fund your project for up to three years.

Who can apply

Normal NERC individual eligibility rules apply (see section C of the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook).

Investigators may be involved in no more than two proposals submitted to this opportunity. In only one of these may they be the lead principal investigator.

Host institution eligibility

UKRI research and fellowship grants for all schemes may be held at:

  • approved UK higher education institutions (HEIs)
  • approved research council institutes (RCIs)
  • independent research organisations (IROs)
  • public sector research establishments (PSREs).

Check if you are eligible for research and innovation funding.

What we're looking for

NERC and ESRC are seeking to support a portfolio of interdisciplinary research projects across the environmental, economic and social sciences to advance research in the economics of biodiversity.

Scope

This opportunity is supported under the Economics of Biodiversity programme. This programme aims to inform decision making by addressing critical gaps in our current understanding of the economic values, benefits, and costs that society associates with, and derives from, biodiversity. Biodiversity comprises all living components in ecosystems and is a core element of the natural world.

The programme will explore how economies are embedded in nature and how nature and biodiversity are integrated into economic models and decision-making processes by:

  • examining how multiple pluralistic values associated with biodiversity are captured, derived, applied and utilised
  • investigating the ways in which socio-economic and ecological systems are interlinked or coupled, and how this can help build and maintain resilience of these systems in response to increasing disturbances
  • exploring how different evidence-based biodiversity valuation methods (including those beyond monetary valuations) can be embedded within mainstream local and national decision making in the UK, whilst also reflecting upon the needs of future generations and meeting global biodiversity and development targets.

Projects will generate new, and harness existing data and evidence. They will work with stakeholders to inform the types of interventions required to maintain, enhance and optimise biodiversity and its value in supporting human activities in highly interconnected socio-economic and ecological systems.

Proposals must be interdisciplinary to explore and capitalise upon different disciplines and inform research and catalyse changes in real-word decision making. There must be demonstrable awareness of how biodiversity and ecosystems connect to wider societal factors, for example:

  • achieving net zero carbon emissions
  • adapting to a changing climate
  • improved human health and wellbeing
  • creating jobs
  • social cohesion
  • ‘levelling up’ opportunities across society.

This opportunity will support a portfolio of projects that deliver the following and contribute to programme outcomes (see ‘additional information’):

  • new data, methods and demonstrable techniques for utilising pluralistic values associated with biodiversity
  • using this enhanced evidence base to inform strategies and applying them to socio-economic decision making and performance monitoring of impacts and dependencies on ecosystems.
  • co-development of new, or enhancement of existing, decision support tools with intended users. This includes communication, data, document, knowledge, and model driven tools.
  • research conducted at relevant scales to fill knowledge gaps on the interplay between ecosystems and their biodiversity, human society and economic systems.

Proposal requirements

Proposals must take an interdisciplinary approach bringing together different disciplines represented by NERC and ESRC remits. Proposals that only involve collaboration between researchers within the remit of a single research council are out of scope.

Proposed research should emphasise relevance to integrating economics of biodiversity in decision making in the UK, in the context of meeting wider global biodiversity targets and sustainable development goals.

Proposals can focus on the economics of biodiversity in the context of terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats.

Proposals requiring the use of large marine research equipment and facilities (including ship time) are out of scope for this opportunity. Equipment up to a value of £10,000 (inclusive of VAT) can be requested.

Research teams are strongly encouraged to co-develop interdisciplinary research agendas with stakeholders and user groups (for example, local communities, businesses, policymakers).

Proposals should:

  • link fundamental research to expected outcomes and impacts on the ground
  • demonstrate feasibility and added value of bringing biodiversity considerations into mainstream decision making.

Research themes

Projects must address at least one of the three research themes identified for this opportunity.

In addressing the research themes, projects should also keep in mind recent developments in the economics of biodiversity and clearly align with relevant contemporary policy goals. For example, by linking project activities and outputs to stated goals and recommendations and presenting clear results to assist decision making by different stakeholders. This includes:

Theme one: biodiversity values in decision making

Values associated with the economics of biodiversity are nuanced and often challenging to capture through traditional market valuation techniques. These techniques fall short because only some of the goods and services provided by ecosystems are traded in the market economy.

Therefore, different approaches from economic, social and environmental sciences should be applied for assigning values to biodiversity, thinking beyond solely monetary valuation and avoiding conflating economic with financial values.

This theme will explore the broad range of benefits associated with biodiversity. While private equity firms, large scale allocators of capital, and the multinational operations they fund are key stakeholders, economic discussions should also consider broader equality, diversity and inclusion issues. These include, for example, gender, micro-small-medium enterprises and local communities.

Actions are encouraged to explore beyond macro-level economics to the finer micro scales important in decision making, which is a critical step in moving from concept to application.

Projects addressing this theme should take into account the extensive existing biodiversity valuation literature and evidence base, including:

Topics that could be considered under this theme include, but are not limited to:

  • employing holistic thinking that effectively explores multiple valuation methods and assists alignment or interoperability of different biodiversity values
  • understanding variance of values held between and amongst present and future human societies and tensions associated with trade-offs and intra and inter-generational fairness
  • developing the narrative and interpretation of ‘biodiversity as an asset’ to audiences with different concepts of ownership and responsibility, identifying and linking to levers driving change in social norms
  • advancing the use of biodiversity valuations in relation to reaching stated societal ambitions and informing UK international leadership on, for example, global biodiversity targets and UN sustainable development goals
  • exploring and applying alternative approaches to move beyond conventional economic measures like gross domestic product (GDP) to assess the performance and health of coupled socio-economic and ecological systems in decision making, for example, gross ecosystem product (GEP).

Theme two: biodiversity, natural capital and resilience

Resilience has multiple definitions across disciplines. In this context, it refers to the ability of subjects (populations, organisms, systems or networks) to withstand, recover from, or adapt to disturbance. Both ecological and socio-economic systems within which human societies operate can be considered in relation to their resilience to disturbances.

This theme considers the economics of biodiversity through the lens of the interconnected socio-economic and ecological systems. The aim is to generate new thinking and knowledge regarding what represents resilient, sustainable, healthy and fair systems.

Investigations may consider how knowledge on the economics of biodiversity can inform decisions that make the coupled socio-economic and ecological systems more robust. This can be through:

  • improving protection from disruption
  • developing methods for enhancing system recovery following disruption
  • understanding how to retain or build capacity within systems to reorientate, transform and adapt to alternative outcomes and futures.

Projects will enhance economic understanding for current and future decision making concerned with building resilience in the coupled socio-economic and ecological systems, emphasising the role of biodiversity underpinning systems resilience. For example, this may include:

  • nature-based solutions to address societal and environmental challenges
  • the role of biodiversity in human built environments
  • implementing ecosystem restoration
  • conserving, protecting and recovering biodiversity.

Projects under this theme should take into account the existing evidence base such as:

Topics that could be considered under this theme include, but are not limited to:

  • the types and ‘level’ of biodiversity that are required to maintain, restore and enhance ecological processes in multi-functional systems supporting social and economic activities
  • how ecological systems may reorientate under different conditions, scenarios and disturbances and the extent to which this is driven by, and impacts upon, socio-economic systems
  • integrated human, natural, financial capitals through a capitals approach to building system resilience, improving sustainable management of resources, enhancing human well-being and reducing inequality.

Theme three: management tools for decision makers

This theme will consider how the economics of biodiversity can be applied to support management decisions.

All three Valuing Nature business roundtables highlighted a perceived lack of ‘decision-grade’ data as a barrier to valuing and measuring natural assets, thus impeding effective mainstreaming of biodiversity into corporate decision-making.

This theme explores if and where this data gap exists. It will investigate how to make data of sufficient quality available for accurate and integrated forecasting and reporting on biodiversity, natural capital, fiscal forecasting and predictive modelling used in decision making.

This could include but is not limited to economic, financial, population, cultural value and environmental data.

Most decisions that impact biodiversity are made at the local scale, yet a majority of the established and emerging decision support tools that capture biodiversity values operate at broad scales including landscape and ecosystem levels.

Consequently, decision support tools and models often do not provide information at adequate resolutions to support local management decisions and often go unused by end users who were the intended beneficiaries.

Projects under this theme should have an emphasis on improving scalability, interoperability and user uptake of decision support tools. This may include working with:

  • temporal variability, for example, seasonality, land use change
  • spatial variability, for example, topography land parcel location bordering land use
  • differing knowledge requirements for various users, for example, local, regional, national priorities.

Areas of specific interest include:

  • indicators and tools required at national and global levels to forecast and report on the economics of biodiversity
  • methods to overcome challenges in variance of context-specific biodiversity measurements
  • exploration of the feasibility and implications of developing a single indicator or metric of biodiversity
  • investigating the science behind the metrics, such as what constitutes ‘biodiversity net gain’
  • co-developing effective tools with different end users to measure and account for different biodiversity values against environmental governance and performance targets at relevant scales.

Projects should recognise existing tools whilst considering necessary changes to support decisions based upon biodiversity values, including:

Topics that could be considered under this theme include but are not limited to:

  • improved integration of biodiversity and economic factors in new and existing models, including those currently applied outside the UK, and applying them in real world decision contexts at appropriate scales to support actions
  • increased harmonisation of biodiversity and economic value data across key domains, such as agriculture, climate change mitigation, and social and economic development programmes
  • explore linkages to relevant international goals (for example, UN Sustainable Development Goals and post-2020 global biodiversity targets)
    explore how the data revolution agenda and emerging technologies (for example, artificial intelligence, quantum computing) can support the integration of the economics of biodiversity being included in decision making
  • what is required to address institutional failures to mainstream the economics of biodiversity as identified in the Dasgupta Review, and mobilise stakeholders that can initiate change at individual (for example, citizen) and multi-dimensional (for example, social groupings) levels, and where possible explore how to catalyse change.

Funding available

NERC and ESRC have provisionally allocated £4 million to this funding opportunity. The maximum funding per project is £1 million (at 100% full economic cost) with a duration of up to three years. We will fund 80% of the project’s full economic cost, that is, up to £800,000 per project.

All costs associated with the project must be itemised in the Je-S proforma and justified in the justification of resources document.

The following are ineligible costs:

  • proposals requiring the use of large marine research equipment and facilities (including ship time) are out of scope for this opportunity. Equipment up to a value of £10,000 (inclusive of VAT) can be requested
  • associated studentships.

Projects should budget sufficient travel and subsistence costs to attend three 1-day programme events in the UK.

Implementation and delivery

Projects should be no longer than 36 months in duration and start no later than 1 August 2022.

Use of NERC facilities and services

Applicants wishing to use NERC services and facilities will need to contact the relevant facility at least two months prior to submission of the grant to discuss the proposed work and receive confirmation that they can provide the services required within the timeframe of the grant.

The facility will then provide a technical assessment that includes the calculated cost of providing the service. NERC services and facilities must be costed within the limits of the proposal.

The technical assessment must be submitted as part of the Je-S form, as detailed in the ‘Additional Information’ section and within the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook (paragraph 237).

See the full list of NERC Facilities that require a technical assessment, excluding High Performance Computing (HPC), Ship-Time or Marine Equipment (SME) and the large research facilities at Harwell. These services have their own policies for access and costing.

You may not request the use of NERC marine research facilities or British Antarctic Survey Antarctic Logistics Support under this opportunity.

Knowledge exchange and impact

Knowledge exchange (KE) is vital to ensure that environmental research has wide benefits for society and should be an integral part of any research. Public engagement is a key part of knowledge exchange, and a route to increasing the impact of research.

A separate ‘pathways to impact’ statement is not required, but applicants should still consider how they will or might achieve impact outside the scientific community and include this as part of their ‘case for support’. Impact activities do not have to be cost-incurring, but relevant costs can be included and must be fully justified within the ‘justification of resources’ statement.

All funded projects may also be required to engage with programme-wide KE activities, in which case appropriate funding for which will be provided by the programme.

Data management

You must adhere to UKRI open research policy and NERC data policy and an outline data management plan produced as part of proposal development (see NERC data management planning guidance).

For details of data centres, see the NERC Environmental Data Service and ESRC UK Data Service.

NERC will pay the data centre directly on behalf of the programme for archival and curation services, but applicants should ensure they request sufficient resource to cover preparation of data for archiving by the research team.

Programme management

The programme executive board (PEB) will provide the strategic direction for the
programme and will be the ultimate decision-making authority. The PEB will be chaired by a representative of NERC, and will include representatives from ESRC, and relevant users or stakeholders as required.

The funders will explore ways to support coordination of funded projects, programme-level stakeholder engagement and knowledge exchange including supporting a programme coordination function.

All projects funded under the Economics of Biodiversity programme will be required to engage with the programme coordination function, and other relevant UKRI investments identified by the funders. Projects will be required to participate in relevant programme events and integration activities such as workshops where possible and should budget sufficient travel and subsistence costs to attend at least three one-day programme events based in the UK.

Reporting requirements

As for all NERC grant holders, there will be a requirement to report through the UKRI reporting system, Researchfish. This is required annually and continues for up to five years after funding ends. For details, see reporting your project’s outcomes.

Grant holders may also be asked to provide regular and ad hoc project progress reports to the PEB and programme coordination function as needed.

Responsible research

Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment, not just through research outputs and outcomes but through the way in which research is conducted and facilities managed.

All NERC grant holders are to adopt responsible research practices as set-out in the NERC responsible business statement (PDF, 462KB).

Responsible research is defined as reducing harm or enhancing benefit on the environment and society through effective management of research activities and facilities. Specifically, this covers:

  • the natural environment
  • the local community
  • equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

Grant holders should consider the responsible research context of their project, not the host institution as a whole, and take action to enhance their responsible research approach where practical and reasonable.

How to apply

There are two stages to apply for this funding opportunity:

  1. Notification of intent
  2. Full proposal.

Notification of Intent

A notification of intent to submit must be submitted by 7 January 2022 16:00.

Full Je-S proposals submitted without a prior notification of intent will be rejected.

Submit your notification of intent.

Tell us:

  • the focus of your proposed research project,
  • the institutions, investigators and project partners that are expected to be involved
  • a title and brief abstract of your planned work.

The abstract will not be assessed, but NERC will use the information to plan the proposal assessment.

Details of your proposed project may be changed at the full proposal stage.

Full proposal

Full proposal must be submitted using the research councils’ Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S).

When applying select:

  • council: NERC
  • document type: ‘standard proposal’
  • scheme: ‘directed’
  • call/type/mode: Economics of Biodiversity NOV21

This funding opportunity will close on Je-S at 16:00 on 15 February 2022 and it will not be possible to submit after this time.

Applicants should leave enough time for their proposal to pass through their organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date. Any proposal that is incomplete, or does not meet NERC’s eligibility criteria or follow NERC’s submission rules (see NERC research grants and fellowships handbook), will be office rejected and will not be considered.

All attachments, with the exception of letters of support and services, facilities or equipment quotes, submitted through the Je-S system must be completed in single-spaced typescript of minimum font size 11 point (Arial or other sans serif typeface of equivalent size to Arial 11), with margins of at least 2cm.

Please note that Arial narrow, Calibri and Times New Roman are not allowable font types and any proposal which has used either of these font types within their submission will be rejected.

References and footnotes should also be at least 11 point font and should be in the same font type as the rest of the document. Headers and footers should not be used for references or information relating to the scientific case. Applicants referring to websites should note that referees may choose not to use them.

Applicants should ensure that their proposal conforms to all eligibility and submission rules, otherwise their proposal may be rejected without peer review. More details on NERC’s submission rules can be found in the:

Proposals for this call should be submitted in ’standard grant’ format following the requirements outlined in paragraph 207, Section F of the handbook. Specifically, applicants should note that the case for support may not exceed 10 sides of A4:

  • up to two sides for the track record
  • up to eight sides for the description of the research.

Please note that on submission to council all non-PDF documents are converted to PDF. The use of non-standard fonts may result in errors or font conversion, which could affect the overall length of the document.

Additionally where non-standard fonts are present, and even if the converted PDF document may look unaffected in the Je-S System, when it is imported into the research councils’ grants system some information may be removed. We therefore recommend that where a document contains any non-standard fonts (for example, scientific notation, diagrams), the document should be converted to PDF prior to attaching it to the proposal.

How we will assess your application

Proposals will be internationally peer-reviewed and final funding recommendations made by a moderating panel consisting of independent experts across NERC and ESRC remits.

Applicants will be given the opportunity to provide a written response to peer review comments prior to the moderating panel.

The assessment criteria to be used will be as follows:

  • research excellence
  • fit to scheme.

Feedback will be provided to both successful and unsuccessful applicants.

NERC and ESRC will use the recommendations of the moderating panel along with the overall call requirements and the available budget in making the final funding decisions. The funders reserve the right to use the recommendations to create a balanced portfolio across research themes and remits.

COVID-19 impacts

NERC and ESRC recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities. We are committed to ensuring that individual applicants and their wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their careers such as:

  • breaks and delays
  • disruptive working patterns and conditions
  • the loss of on-going work
  • role changes that may have been caused by the pandemic.

Reviewers and panel members will be advised to consider the unequal impacts of the impact that COVID-19 related disruption might have had on the track record and career development of those individuals included in the proposal and will be asked to consider the capability of the applicant and their wider team to deliver the research they are proposing.

Where disruptions have occurred applicants can highlight this within their application, if they wish, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

Contact details

Ask a question about this opportunity

Economics of Biodiversity programme team

Email: economics@nerc.ukri.org

Additional info

Expected outcomes

Within the Economics of Biodiversity programme, this opportunity will provide critical thinking, new data and evidence to:

  • begin addressing these research themes
  • position the programme in the current fast developing landscape of biodiversity valuation for decision making.

Projects supported in this opportunity are expected to contribute to the following outcomes:

  • a step change in our understanding of the role that biodiversity plays in ecological functioning of natural capital assets.
  • improved understanding of the full suite of values of biodiversity, and how these values can be standardly incorporated into the valuation of biodiversity within economic analyses and put into practice by decision makers.
  • provide a clear narrative on how use and preservation of the natural systems needs to be balanced to underpin the economy and human health and well-being.
  • provide new evidence and data to support changed practices and improved environmental performance reporting of natural assets in key sectors (public and private).
  • development of new decision support tools and management approaches, co-designed by academics and decision makers.

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